Diet Quality Trumps Calorie Counting
Whether it’s because your jeans have suddenly gotten too tight, you were winded walking up a couple of flights of stairs, you were not very happy with the way you looked in a full-length picture, or any other reason, the realization that you need to drop some excess weight is upon you. But figuring out where to begin can be daunting. After all, there are a ridiculous number of diets touted all over the media: low-carb, Mediterranean, low-fat, calorie restricted, name-brand prepackaged meal programs, and food combining, to name a few. Confused? Well, new research may help you formulate a new eating plan by cutting through some of the conflicting information to get to the heart of what really works.
The study, which was conducted at Stanford University in California, found that the quality of the food a person eats appears to be much more important for weight loss than counting the number of calories consumed every day.1 These results were based on an investigation involving 609 overweight men and women attempting to lose weight.
The subjects were randomly divided into small groups that focused on either low-fat or low-carbohydrate eating plans and provided with nutrition information in 22 sessions over the course of 12 months. All of the participants were instructed by health educators about a variety of options for consuming either a low-fat or low-carbohydrate diet that would still be realistic for their long-term eating habits and also offer high quality nutrition.
Interestingly, the volunteers from both diet groups lost weight in much greater amounts when then reduced their intake of highly processed foods, added sugars, and refined grains than when they simply kept calories to a minimum. In fact, those who chose to eat more natural foods didn’t need to count calories or even limit their portion sizes to lose weight successfully.
It might be easier to rely on counting out your calories every day, but really it is not a good plan for creating a healthy lifestyle. While technically it’s true that as long as you consume fewer calories per day than you are expending, you will lose weight, there is so much more to the story. If you are losing weight by cutting back on calories and keeping count of everything you eat, your nutrition may suffer.
For example, you can eat several single-serving size packages of chips or 100-calorie packs of cookies and not add a lot to your daily calorie count, but this is obviously not a healthy way to eat, nor is it a long-term approach to nutrition. Actually, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University did an experiment several years ago in which two-thirds of his daily calorie intake came from junk food, limiting his calories to a maximum of 1,800 per day. He did lose 27 pounds in two months, but did not do any sort of follow up afterward to show how much he gained back once he began eating normally again.
As the current study shows, a much better approach for not only meeting short-term weight loss goals but for long-term maintenance and a healthier lifestyle is to alter your diet to focus on natural, unprocessed foods. It isn’t as quick or easy as buying foods that come in a box or a can that can just be heated up for dinner, but you will benefit in many ways if you give this a chance.
Not only do foods in their natural state help you shed excess weight, but they have more nutrients, contain more fiber to keep you feeling satiated, and are free of the added sodium, sugar, and chemicals that are linked with many diseases. Processed foods, on the other hand, have been associated with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
There are lots of ways to make changes to your eating habits for the better. First of all, you don’t need to feel like it has to be done all at once. It’s okay to gradually shift from consuming more takeout and prepared foods to unprocessed meals, even by transitioning just one meal a week. Avoid the power aisles in the center of the store and shop around the perimeter of the supermarket, where you will find most of the produce, fresh whole-grain breads, and lean sources of protein. And cooking on the weekends makes it easier to plan ahead for a healthy week of meals, as you can freeze portions to have food ready for quick dinners.
- 1. Gardner, Christopher D.; et al. "Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion." Journal of the American Medical Association. 20 February 2018. Accessed 25 February 2018. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2673150?redirect=true